First Texas Fracking Case Results in Verdict for Plaintiffs
On April 22, 2014, a Dallas County court jury awarded a family $2.95 million in the first fracking case to go to a jury in Texas.
Lisa and Robert Parr live on 40 acres atop the Barnett Shale where fracking began in 2008. Twenty-two wells were eventually drilled within two miles of their 40-acre home. The Parrs alleged that they began experiencing chronic nose bleeding, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, and open sores when fracking began. They claimed the symptoms were caused by exposure to hazardous gases, chemicals, and industrial waste.
The Parrs sued Aruba Petroleum, Inc. (Aruba) and ten other oil and gas companies in 2011, alleging negligence, gross negligence, private nuisance and trespass. Halliburton won a no-evidence summary judgment, arguing the family had produced no evidence that Halliburton's conduct was the proximate cause of their injuries. Specifically, Halliburton argued that it conducted very limited work on the sites; namely, it had only “provided drilling mud services, rented or sold equipment, placed fracturing plugs on certain wells, and provided cementing services.” The Parrs settled with other defendants prior to trial.
The trial court granted Aruba’s motion for summary judgment as to all claims but private nuisance, and the case proceeded to the jury on that claim. During trial, Aruba’s primary argument was that the Parrs could not prove that Aruba caused their injuries due to the number of wells drilled around their property by other oil and gas companies. Aruba drilled eight wells within a mile of the Parrs' land and another 14 within two miles, but that same land was filled with dozens of other drilling rigs. Aruba also argued that it had been in compliance with applicable state and federal laws.
On a 5-1 vote, the jury found that Aruba “intentionally created a private nuisance” but did not find that it acted with the malice necessary to justify an award of punitive damages. The jury awarded $275,000 for losses on property value, $2 million for past physical pain and suffering, $250,000 for future physical pain and suffering and $400,000 for mental anguish.
Aruba was represented by attorney Ben Barron of Ben K. Barron PC. Barron said Aruba will file post-verdict motions challenging the ruling and will “certainly appeal” if judgment is entered on the verdict. We will continue to monitor further developments.